Burke dream comes true with Ireland call

by Dave Donnelly

Graham Burke put his name in the history books as he became the first League of Ireland player to line out in an official match for the senior international team in 11 years.

The Shamrock Rovers frontman played the final 20 minutes of Ireland’s 2-0 defeat to France in the Stade de France in Paris as a substitute for Bristol City’s Callum O’Dowda.

It was the second time Burke has taken the field for the seniors – he also appeared against Celtic for Scott Brown’s testimonial two weeks ago – but this time he’ll get a cap.

It’s the culmination of a rollercoaster couple of weeks for the Sean McDermott Street native, who played five games in the space of ten days, including two in under 24 hours, after getting the call.

“It’s a brilliant feeling” Burke told RTE Sport after his debut in Paris.

“I’m over the moon and I can’t really put it into words how I’m feeling right now. But it’s a dream come true. I’m proud to say I’ve made a senior cap for the Republic of Ireland.

“About 55 minutes, or something like that, I was told to warm up and then you get the call from the sideline to say you’re going to be coming on and the heart start beating a bit faster.”

Burke was a talented underage player where he mixed with Europe’s best young players as he finished top scorer in Aston Villa’s NextGen Series – a forerunner to the UEFA Youth League – win.

The 24-year-old has taken his rapid ascent in his stride, but even so he admitted to having a double-take when he saw himself sharing a pitch with the likes of Paul Pogba.

He continued: “To go on the pitch was brilliant. It’s crazy to go on the pitch and turn around and see all these world class stars going around, it’s unbelievable.

“To think of the players they had coming off the bench: the likes of [Thomas] Lemar, [Ousmane] Dembélé, [Ngolo] Kanté, Pogba, just to name off a few. That’s serious talent.”

An unhappy stint in the lower leagues in England led him to return to Ireland to revive his fortunes with Rovers.

And Burke has been one of the standout player in the league this season with ten goals from 20 appearances, including four in a 6-1 thumping of Derry City in Tallaght.

He’s developed a reputation for spectacular goals, and it was one such effort in the 3-0 win over champions Cork City that caught the eye of the watching Martin O’Neill.

For Burke – who was joined in the squad by Bohemians goalkeeper Shane Supple – it’s proof that players can realise their international ambitions without having to leave home.

“For everyone playing in the League of Ireland, you can see that if you’re playing well you can go and achieve a senior cap. It just goes to show you can go out and do it.

“I had a few [of the family] out there in the stands. I’d say they’re proud. I’m not too sure [if I’ll be involved in the USA game]. Hopefully I will be. Fingers crossed I am.”

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